Summit Digs into Persistence of U.S. Racism

Charleston Gazette - The United States is becoming more diverse, said Mike Wenger, researcher and professor of race at George Washington University. Read

Wenger, who spoke at Tuesday's Summit on Race Matters in Appalachia, said it's in a city or state's better interests to accept that.

"It's a reality we should embrace and treasure. Certainly for our own moral integrity and political stability, but also because racial equity and racial harmony actually spur economic growth," Wenger said. "How many corporations do you think were anxious to locate in the Kanawha Valley after the 1976 textbook protests, in which I was involved and which generated national attention about racial divisions? And how many businesses today do you think will choose to locate to Ferguson, Missouri?"

The two-day event was organized by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and meant to start a larger conversation that addressed race and inequality in the state. Participants heard from activists and scholars about the structure of racism and unconscious bias. They also discussed their own experiences with racism in breakout groups that met throughout the day.

Dr. Gail Christopher, an official with the Kellogg Foundation, a philanthropic group focused on the well-being of children, said race is not real. It's a construct people and systems have accepted and promoted over time.

That people of different skin colors have varying levels of worth is "an archaic set of beliefs that really have no place in the 21st century," Christopher said. "We have to put race in front of us so that we can put it behind us. Race is a social construct, but as a biological reality, it doesn't exist."


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